NJ’s plastic bag ban starts today. Tips to know before you go to the store.

New Jersey’s plastic bag ban is officially in effect.

As of Wednesday, May 4, single-use plastic bags are banned at all store registers, and paper bags at large grocery stores. The bill to ban bags and other single-use plastic items was signed into law in November 2020, but it gave stores and consumers 18 months to prepare.

The ban is likely to be the strictest in the nation, as it’s the only one that bans paper bags at grocery stores (most other states with bag bans allow for paper bags, either for free or for a nominal fee). The ban also includes polystyrene products and limits when straws can be handed out.

The new rules will surely take some time to get used to, but the basic information you need to know is all right here.

What types of bags are banned?

All stores are banned from giving out or selling single-use plastic bags when you check out. Paper bags are banned at grocery stores, but non-grocery and retail stores can still provide paper them. It will be fine for a clothing retailer or small bodega to hand over your purchase in a paper bag.

Produce bags, bags used to package meat or dry cleaning, and a few other exceptions remain.

Read More: Garbage, produce, pet waste bags still OK when new law starts

So what do I do when I go to the grocery store?

Bring your own reusable bags, be prepared to buy some at the register or plan to carry out your purchase without a bag. You can always wheel your purchased items out to the car and put them directly in the trunk.

Stores cannot require customers to purchase a reusable bag.

Also, if you are like most people and have stockpiled a bunch of those single-use bags or paper bags, you can still bring those to be used at the checkout if you want. The idea here is to get people to reduce their plastic consumption.

Read More: Why are grocery stores banned from using paper bags?

What qualifies as a reusable bag?

To be considered a reusable bag, the bag must have handles, be made of some kind of washable fabric, and withstand 125 uses and multiple washes.

Anything made of plastic, regardless of thickness, is not considered reusable.

But the law applies to what stores can give you. It does not apply to what you can bring. If you have an entire kitchen cabinet filled with plastic bags, you’re a-OK to keep using them.

Read More: How to keep your reusable bags clean

How is this going to affect my shop-from-home grocery order?

Most grocery stores in New Jersey told NJ Advance Media they plan on distributing a new set of reusable bags with every online order. Most stores will implement new fees to cover the bags, while one (Whole Foods) told NJ Advance Media it’ll be rolled into their existing fees.

Some stores, like Walmart and Target, said they will not be using any type of bag when you come to pick up your order.

And for customers concerned with having too many reusable bags, some grocery chains are working on setting up a bag return program, so any unwanted bags can be donated to food pantries.

Read More: Here’s how grocery stores are handling online orders

Can I still use plastic bags in my house, like in my trash can?

Sure. You can use up that stash of plastic bags for your bathroom trash can, or to scoop your pet waste. Reusing (over and over, not just once) is actually better than recycling, experts say.

Once those run out, you can still buy garbage bags in stores. Experts recommend buying compostable bags or reducing your use of garbage bags.

Read More: Those bags were great for small trash cans. Now what?

I used those bags for dog waste and cat litter, so what am I going to do now?

Now’s the time to get creative and do a bit of research.

There are biodegradable bags available for pet waste, as well as other options like using paper bags, newspaper, composting or sometimes flushing waste, depending on your wastewater system.

Read More: NJ plastic bag ban poses greater challenges for low-income, disabled, advocates say

Is there any help for people on fixed or low incomes?

Community groups are working to get free bags to those who will need them.

NJ Clean Communities, a non-profit tasked with providing information and resources ahead of the law’s implementation, has been distributing reusable bags at various community events.

SNAP / EBT benefits cannot be used to purchase reusable bags, as federal law bars those benefits from being used on non-food items.

What is polystyrene, and how does that part of the ban affect me?

Polystyrene is a plastic used to make food containers. It comes in two forms: hard plastic like you might get a condiment in at the deli and foam, which you would likely associate with the term Styrofoam.

Starting on May 4, containers made using the polystyrene foam will be banned. The hard version will not be included by the ban, a DEP official said.

Styrofoam plates and cups will no longer be available for purchase at grocery stores. Plastic utensils, plates and cups are allowed, as are paper plates and cups, but nothing made of polystyrene, according to the state.

The ban applies to all types of businesses.

Read More: Styrofoam plates, cups will not be sold in NJ stores when bag ban starts

Are straws also banned?

There is no statewide ban on single-use plastic straws, but restaurants can only give one out if a customer specifically asks for it. This started in November.

Food service businesses are required to keep a supply of plastic straws on hand, something disability advocates have pushed for when similar straw bans have gone into effect elsewhere.

Non-plastic straws (think: paper or sugar cane straws) are not part of the law, and businesses can hand those out without a customer asking.

For more information on the ban visit nj.com/plasticbagban. Still have questions about New Jersey’s plastic bag ban? Ask them here.

Katie Kausch may be reached at kkausch@njadvancemedia.com. Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com.

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